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If you’ve never heard of “family-responsibility discrimination,” or FRD, you soon will.

This subset of sex discrimination is a form of gender bias brought by employees who claim they lost their jobs, were passed over for promotion or were treated unfairly because they fulfilled caregiving roles for children or elderly parents.

The number of FRD cases has jumped fourfold in just 10 years.

While no federal law specifically prohibits FRD, employees have filed FRD-related lawsuits under Title VII, FMLA, ADA, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Who’s at risk? Companies that land in court over such caregiving issues tend to be the ones that mismanage their work/life policies and programs.

Avoiding FRD claims: 5 tips

How can you avoid being sued?

1. Reference FRD in your anti-discrimination policies. Make clear that your organization prohibits job discrimination based on employees’ or applicants’ status as parents or caregivers. Then educate supervisors on what constitutes caregiver discrimination.

Online resource: For a free, model anti-discrimination policy on employee caregiving, go to www.worklifelaw.org/pubs/Model_Policy_for_Employers.pdf.

2. Create effective programs, not symbolic ones. The last thing you want is for your work/life policy to be perceived as simply lip service—uncoordinated, unequal and disorganized.

The Alliance for Work/Life Progress recommends that work/life programs create an integrated approach based on these categories:

  • Workplace flexibility
  • Paid and unpaid time-off
  • Health and well-being
  • Dependent care
  • Financial support
  • Community involvement
  • Management involvement

3. Beware the middle-manager who doesn’t believe in work/life or doesn’t understand the work/life needs of the work force. This is where you must encourage and monitor hiring, attendance and promotion policies to make sure they’re free of biased standards. Think flexibly about how job duties can be accomplished and make personnel decisions based on legitimate business needs (rather than on assumptions about commitment and productivity).

4. Follow up and hold managers accountable. Organizations with some of the most successful programs rate their managers on how available they make work/life options to workers. Those ratings factor into reviews and bonuses, too.

5. Tailor your policies for life-stage flexibility. Employees in the early, mid and later stages of their careers will have different work/life priorities. Bottom line: Your policies should have something for everyone in your organization.

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